“Brutal” battle for Sievierodonetsk in Ukraine will decide the destiny of Donbass, says the President

  • Sievierodonetsk Battle Key to Donbass – Zelenskiy
  • Industrial city is destroyed, governor of Lugansk
  • Ukrainian troops retreat to the outskirts of the city
  • Russian troops outnumber Ukrainian in Donbass – USA

KIEV/Slovyansk, Ukraine, June 9 (Reuters) – The battle over the Ukrainian city of Sievierodonetsk is brutal and will determine the fate of the Donbass region, the country’s president has said, while Russian troops devastate the city in a targeted attack to control the eastern Ukraine.

Having failed to take control of the capital Kyiv, the Kremlin is now attempting to completely “liberate” Donbass, where Russian-backed separatists broke from control of the Ukrainian government in 2014.

About a third of Donbass was held by the separatists before the February 24 invasion.

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“This is a very brutal fight, very hard, maybe one of the most difficult in this war,” Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said in a video statement on Wednesday.

“Sievierodonetsk remains the epicenter of the encounter in Donbass… In essence, the fate of our Donbass is now being decided there,” he added.

Ukrainian fighters withdrew to the outskirts of the city on Wednesday but have vowed to fight there for as long as possible.

“The enemy fired at our units with mortars, artillery and multiple rocket launchers,” the Ukrainian general staff said on Thursday.

Russia denies attacks on civilians.

Artillery shelling has turned the city in Ukraine’s Luhansk province into a bombed-out wasteland. Luhansk regional governor Serhiy Gaidai said the center of the city would be destroyed.

Gaidai said a chemical plant had been shelled in Sievierodonetsk and four civilians had died in the region in the past 24 hours.

Ukrainian forces still control Sievierodonetsk’s smaller sister city, Lysychansk, on the west bank of the Siverskyi Donets river, but Russian forces destroyed residential buildings there, Gaidai said.

Reuters could not independently verify the situation on the ground in either city.

Kiev’s ambassador to the United States told CNN that Ukrainian troops in Luhansk and Donetsk, which together make up Donbas, a largely Russian-speaking region, were vastly outnumbered.

But “as we have already seen in the battle for Kyiv, we can temporarily lose something. Of course we are trying to minimize that because we know what will happen (can) (if) Russians control territories, but we will get it back,” Oksana Markarova said.

Gaidai said Russia now controls more than 98 percent of Luhansk.

“God saved me”

West of Sievierodonetsk in Sloviansk, one of the main Ukrainian-held cities in the Donbass, women with young children queued up to collect aid supplies on Wednesday while other residents carried buckets of water through the city.

Most residents have fled, but authorities say around 24,000 remain in the city ahead of an expected attack by Russian forces regrouping in the north.

Albina Petrovna, 85, described the moment her building was hit by an attack that smashed her windows and destroyed her balcony.

“Broken glass fell on me, but God saved me, I have scratches all over,” she said.

The Ukrainian military said four people were killed during Russian shelling of around 20 towns in Donbass over the past 24 hours, and its forces killed 31 Russian soldiers. Reuters could not immediately verify the numbers.

In Soledar, Donetsk, residents took shelter in basements on Wednesday as shells hit the city.

“We’re being shot at day and night. The shelling continues. We stay in the basement almost all the time. The apartment is tight, we walk there during the day. At night we stay here,” said a local resident who did not provide her name.

Another resident, 65-year-old Antonina, sobbed and asked, “When will it end?”

Kharkiv Regional Emergency Department said two people were killed and four injured in a fire that was started by shelling and spread through a cafe, grocery store and school library.

Moscow says it is involved in a “military special operation” to disarm and “denazify” its neighbor. Ukraine and its allies say Moscow launched an unprovoked war of aggression, killing thousands of civilians and leveling cities.

United Nations figures show that more than 7 million people have crossed the Ukrainian border since Russia invaded on February 24.

GRAIN FRIGHTS

Ukraine is one of the world’s top grain exporters, and Western countries have accused Russia of creating a risk of global famine by blockading Ukraine’s Black Sea and Sea of ​​Azov ports. Moscow says Western sanctions are to blame for food shortages.

Turkey has tried to conduct negotiations to open Ukraine’s Black Sea ports. Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu received Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov on Wednesday and said further talks could lead to a UN-backed deal on the ports. Continue reading

Lavrov said Ukrainian ports could be opened, but Ukraine would have to demine them first. Ukraine dismissed Russia’s assurances as “empty words” and said Russian attacks on farmland and agricultural sites would exacerbate the crisis.

Vitaliy Kim, governor of the Mykolaiv region, where Russian shelling at the weekend destroyed the warehouses of one of Ukraine’s largest soft commodities terminals, told Reuters Moscow is trying to get the world to comply with its terms. Continue reading

The Kremlin quoted Russian President Vladimir Putin as saying Western sanctions must be lifted for Russian grain to reach markets. Continue reading

Zelenskyy told a summit of business leaders at Yale University via video link on Wednesday that he believes Russia will not seek a diplomatic end to the war unless the world supports Ukrainian troops in their fight.

“We are an independent, righteous, normal country,” said Zelenskyy, adding of his troops’ war effort: “We’re doing it on our land and we’re slowly pushing them back. That’s how we’ll move on.”

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Additional reporting by Reuters offices; writing by Rami Ayyub and Michael Perry; Edited by Cynthia Osterman, Lincoln Feast and Kim Coghill

Our standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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